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Biographical entry Keene, Mary Frances Lucas (1885 - 1977)

MRCS and FRCS 1956; MB BS London 1911; DSc London 1965.

15 August 1885
8 May 1977


Mary Frances Lucas was born on 15 August 1885, in Gravesend, the daughter of George John Lucas, who was a dental surgeon. She attended Rochester Grammar School for Girls and Eversley School, Folkestone.

She entered the London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women in the 1904/5 session and graduated MB BS in 1911, having been an able student and at the centre of activity in social, dramatic and athletic clubs. After a brief but much enjoyed and well remembered clinical career, she returned to the School of Medicine in 1914 to teach anatomy as the assistant to the first full-time Professor, Frederic Wood Jones. With the outbreak of hostilities, the Professor's frequent absences on duty as a Royal Army Medical Corps Officer at Shepherd's Bush Hospital, gave her responsibility as an organiser and teacher. When he left to take the Chair of Anatomy in Manchester in 1919, she was appointed lecturer in charge of the department and in 1924 she was the first woman to be appointed to a Chair of Anatomy in the United Kingdom. She was also one of the first women appointed to examine for the Primary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and the first to be a member of the Council of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland and to be elected to its Presidency, an office she graced from 1949 to 1951.

She was a long-standing member of the University's board of studies in human anatomy and morphology. Her personal qualities made her an admirable chairman and she served as a member of Council and later Vice-President of the Medical Protection Society. She was a staunch supporter of the Medical Women's Federation. As President from 1946 to 1948 she steered it through the difficult negotiations at the inception of the National Health Service. Her lectures were comprehensive, beautifully prepared and illustrated on the blackboard, but she was a shy woman and her slightly monotonous delivery was surprising for an actress and delightfully witty after-dinner speaker.

She was indefatigable in supporting the School of Medicine and the Royal Free Hospital. From 1926 to 1929 she was Vice-Dean and in the arduous years from 1939 to 1943 she was acting Dean in charge of pre-clinical students and staff. Skilled administration and her calm and dignified good humour did much to preserve the excellent morale of staff and students who were first evacuated from London to Aberdeen, returned to London, to leave it once more and go to Exeter. On their final return to London a V2 rocket shattered the anatomy department, but within four days the Dean, and Professor Keene had been able to find a place of work for every student at Guy's and St Mary's Hospital Medical Schools. Professor Lucas Keene played an unobtrusive but important part in post-war repair and extension of the School of Medicine. She campaigned firmly for permanent building and scrutinised the plans with the skill of a printer's proof reader. After her retirement she returned as part-time teacher and Emeritus Professor. During this period she returned to research on the pattern of innervation of intrinsic muscles of the human larynx.

For many years she presided over the Committee of Licensed Teachers of Anatomy of London and insisted upon the proper care of the subjects. Her collaboration with Dr Evelyn Hewer was a happy one and she contributed sections to the Manual of practical dissection by 'Six Teachers' and was co-author with James Willis in a general textbook, Anatomy for dental students.

In addition to the very heavy academic responsibilities and achievements she went home to Kent each weekend to help her husband Richard Keene, whom she had married in 1916, on their farm and in their garden. She was also an outstandingly good athlete, dancer and bridge player. Her beauty was striking and enhanced by age. As a shy person she tended to strike people as aloof and forbidding at first, but she was a patient and generous trainer of her juniors. Unfortunately, the financial constraints under which the Medical School suffered until the inception of the University Grants Committee, meant that she had few full-time members of staff until the end of her term of office. Those who were fortunate enough to serve under her direction have a debt that can never be repaid. The Times rightly described her as 'the Grand Old Lady of British Anatomy' and those who were taught by her remember her as a teacher who was always glad to learn and to teach. She died on 8 May 1977, aged 91, her husband having predeceased her.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1977, 1, 1432; 2, 323; The Times 12 and 19 May 1977].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England